Inappropriate and Notorious

Wednesday night, two weeks ago, Ivan was hell-bent on finding the album “Green” by REM. It had been a long night, punctuated by bouts of hysteria from all corners, and we really wanted, needed, to find the CD. I dragged out every CD file I have and we began to flip through them.”Here it is!” he cried. And indeed, my 1988 original compact disc of REM’s commercial breakthrough still exists.

I put it in and Ivan skibbled around the living room. “Orange Crush!” he yelled. He air guitared and bounced around while I did the dishes. I cannot complain about my son’s musical taste or habits. I have heard children’s music.

Suddenly he was at my side, tugging at my sleeve, “Mom! I know! I can bring this for show and tell! “Orange Crush”! It starts with ‘C!'” Hmmm. Are children allowed to bring music for show-and-tell? Why not? And further, I reasoned, it is a compact disc, which also starts with ‘C’. Very clever, mom.

On the way to school the next morning, Ivan wondered aloud in the back seat, “Mom, I don’t think my classmates know very much about music.” Oh, sweet Ivan, if I had a nickel for every time I have thought that very thing! With conviction he added, “I think I have to help them.” I agreed, it was a noble pursuit.

Last Thursday, I picked up Ivan from school. “How was your day?” He held up an empty jewel case and pouted, “I forgot to bring my Duran Duran CD for ‘D’ show-and-tell day.” Sigh. “But, Ms Mary says I can bring it tomorrow.” Okay kiddo. Ruffle the hair, get in the car.

I had to call my ex-husband to procure the CD. It may surprise you to know that he owns a copy of their greatest hits and I do not. Ahem: we are unconstrained by gender stereotypes. “Oh brother.” he said, “is he going on about that again? I was going to send it along, but I thought it was kind of inappropriate.” I tell this to Ivan and he says earnestly, “I know almost every song on that and they are ALL appropriate!” Okay kiddo. Ruffle hair. We’ll see in the morning.

Inappropriate. The word has become positively insidious since my children have been old enough to, well, be inappropriate. For those of you who do not have children under the age of ten, I will explain. Inappropriate is a morally bland term to describe everything which our parents told us was wrong, naughty, or a sin. So instead of, “We don’t hit our brother, it’s wrong!” It’s “Please stop hitting your brother, it’s inappropriate”. Peeing in front of strangers at the park? Completely inappropriate! Peeing on another person? That is so inappropriate my head is going to explode!!

I have problems with the word’s vagueness, but I do employ it constantly, because it is code for “Don’t do that.” It also smooths over specifics that frankly, I am in no hurry to explain. Like when Veronica asked me the meaning of the word sexy. “Well, it’s like ‘pretty’ but more grown-up-like.” Blank stare. “You know how you feel embarrassed when people kiss in movies?” “Uh-huh. Gross” “Well, that’s kind of sexy.” More staring. “It’s inappropriate?” she offers. I nod furiously, “For an eight year old yes, absolutely. Sexy is inappropriate.”

And this is is how I find myself driving to school this morning reviewing the “greatest” of Duran Duran hits to determine which are appropriate to play for pre-schoolers. (Taste notwithstanding.)

“The first song has a naughty word,” says Ivan ominously, “nuclear war.” I’m trying to place it in the lyrics and start sussing out the melody aloud, “Yeah, it’s like “your something something something as a nuclear waaarrr…”

Ivan pipes up, “He says you’re about AS EASY as a nuclear war.” Gulp. Yep, inappropriate!

“Why can’t we do ‘Hungry Like the Wolf?‘” he asks.

“I think the panting sounds the woman makes in that song might scare your friends.” Also an immediate no: “Girls on Film“. “The Reflex” he doesn’t like, and I don’t blame him.

“What about Rio?'” I enthuse, “Everyone loves Rio’. It’s a classic. You can’t go wrong with ‘Rio’.” We listen together for a minute: ‘Cherry ice-cream smile, I suppose it’s very nice!‘ I start to protest.

“But mom! Every single one is going to be inappropriate! Why?”

“Well, Ivan. These songs are fine for you, because you don’t understand the meanings of most of the words, or the reason they are saying them. But if one of your classmates goes home, and sings something inappropriate, even if they don’t understand it, your school would be in trouble.”

“But I DO know what they mean!”

“Oh yeah, well, what does Notorious mean?”

Without missing a beat he says, “It’s just a woman’s name.”

“Ha!” I say, “Ha ha!! It means being famous for being bad! Like the Joker or Lex Luther!” I sure showed him, that precocious kindergardner! Whose the boss now?

Through his silence, my son concedes there may be hidden inappropriate messages in Duran Duran’s music – which, I assure you, there are legion. We agreed on “New Moon on Monday”, “Union of the Snake” and “Wild Boys”.

I picked him up from school and asked him how it went. He twisted his mouth up in consideration, “We just listened to half of two songs.”

“What do you do while you are listening? Dance?”

“Yeah. Until then Ms. Mary asked us to sit down.” He hung his head, slightly dejected. Okay kiddo, get in the car. I put in “Hungry Like the Wolf” for the ride home. I am not bothered by the woman panting, as I have explained to my son, she just has a stomach ache. And Robert Plant always has to sneeze.

Yes, my boy, ’tis a hard road – delivering the gospel of 1980’s rock and pop music. Next week it will be “E” show-and-tell week. I’ll be looking for my copy of Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True” this weekend. Do you think “Watching the Detectives” is inappropriate? Borderline, I think.

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10 thoughts on “Inappropriate and Notorious”

  1. Awesome. Meryem refuses to participate in show-and-share because “it’s dumb and you never have enough time to finish your snack.”

  2. Amongst all of the comment-worthy parts of this post I could comment on, I find myself in awe of the fact that you got REM Green on disc! I remember my first disc clearly (certainly this had to be nearly your first?) and unfortunately it’s not nearly as cool. I called around to all the record stores feverishly searching for it. To my dismay, everyone was sold out completely. Store after store after store. And then Musicland at the mall had one lone copy which they said would sell quickly if I didn’t get there fast. The only problem was that it was on compact disc! I had a boom box with a cd player from my birthday that year, but it had always seemed unlikely to me that I would ever use it; tapes suited me fine. Sigh. It was the soundtrack to Beaches. The shame, the shame!

    1. I am so pleased that you noticed that detail, as it was to me, quite astonishing. The other thing that amazes me is that it still plays without skipping, for the most part. Just for the record, you ARE the wind beneath my wings.

  3. Not understanding the words: Does this make it okay for the Tea Party to spout the words they spout. Words that will drive our nation’s youth into depravity are subject matter just a little to sophisticated for the crowd whose collective mind has not caught up with the adolescent political body.

    Thankfully, Sid progressed from Pete Seeger to Eric Clapton back to Pete Seeger and then to James Taylor. Pete Seeger: definitely notorious during America’s younger days, but oh so benign in our current culture of bleeding heart socialist gutter of moral depravity and miniskirts and where Woody’s “Machine (that) kills capitalists” seems blase.

    Even if he doesn’t know why–and maybe none of us do–Ivan at least understands that the nuclear war part is way more inappropriate than she’s easy part, although which one makes me more uncomfortable and might make me want to censor myself? It’s all relative, hey?

    1. I guess I’m not seeing the Tea Party connection, but I’m more censorous of MPR than I am of pop music, one reason being that pop music is the mileu of innuendo and frankly, it’s often hard to understand. When the kids don’t understand the words (as in, they don’t even get the words right), they substitute something they do understand, which is necessarily innocent. I also had major reservations about letting them watch a TV show called (I’m not kidding) Bibleman — a God-lovin superhero. So I just told them, as long as the lessons were loving and about making good choices, fine, but if they say something about having to love God or you go to hell… no, we can’t watch that. Similarly, with music, provocative is one thing, mysogonistic is another. I don’t think you’ll find the latter in my collection.

      I figured someone would bust my chops to some degree, and I will admit, I’m pretty lenient when it comes to what my kids are allowed to watch, read and listen to. In addition to Duran Duran they also hear Le Tigre, and Bob Dylan, and whatever else I listen to. For a while Ivan’s favorite song was by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. My M.O. all along has been to let them see it all, and hopefully provide them with the critical thinking skills (and moral guidance) to know what to keep and what to discard.

      Thanks as always for reading and for your thoughtful response Clarence!

  4. HILARIOUS! Just read it again. I really don’t think Duran Duran is EVER appropriate, but if it gets Ivan going (and judging by the photo, it really DOES) then so be it. Could be MUCH worse… like The Thompson Twins, or something.

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